Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Mac Mini

There is a lot of speculation on the net these days about the pending release of a mac netbook but the truth is that mac has essentially been releasing netbooks for years. The iBooks were nothing more than netbooks before they became popular. With the right upgrades they are on par with a modern netbooks, with a few added features. I recently got my hands on a used iBook G4 with a ton of upgrades. For less than $300.

The system is an iBook G4 with a 12" display, 1.2 Gzh PPC processor and it has been upgraded to 1.25 GB of ram from the original 256 MB. Additionally the hard drive has been upgraded from the original 30 GB to a 100 GB 7200 rpm disk. Also the original owner put in an Airport Extreme wireless G card and a CD-RW/DVD-RW super drive. The system is running Leopard 10.5.8 (as Snow Leopard isn't supported on the powerpc chip).

I've also added some software tweaks to modernize it a bit. First off Apple disables the ability for the powerpc models to hibernate for whatever reason. Thanks to a little piece of software called Hibernate mine now hibernates just like the Intel models. Also I've added iScroll2 to add gestures and advanced touchpad features. I also highly recommend Secrets preference pane to unlock all those hidden OSX features and settings.

As far as applications must haves include office 2008, iWork, iLife, Roxio Toast, Transmission, and Gimp. Sorry, Parallels is not supported on the ppc architecture but I am using Virtual PC 2007 and Windows XP for when I need windows Apps. It's slow but I don't need them very often. Sadly no Picasa for ppc either I am settling for iPhoto and the Picasa uploader although I prefer Picasa. I also recommend Adium a great chat client that works with everything including Facebook. Ditch iChat today.

Now the biggest problem with Macs the bundled apps which also is the biggest problem with Windows. Starting with Safari replace it with Firefox, its faster and I love the add-ons and extensions. Plus with the addition of Google Gears I have my access to Gmail, Google Docs, and my Google Calendar offline. Next replace Quicktime with VLC, since Quicktime doesn't play any but mac formats without a bunch of plugins. VLC plays everything right-out of the box. Next get rid of iTunes it has the same problem limited support for other formats. It can convert but this takes too long. Install songbird, problem solved, but you still need iTunes to rip CD's songbird doesn't do that yet. (It's coming in a later version. Technically songbird isn't supported on ppc either but their a folks out there still doing ppc ports so it is my music player of choice on Windows, Linux, and OSX. Even though Gmail is my preferred mail app I also replaced OSX's mail app with Thunderbird as it is cross-platform (Looks that same on my Windows 7, Ubuntu, or OSX) and it has more functionality. iCal is fine with the addition of Gsync to sync it with my Google Calendar.

Other software that I add to all systems no matter what OS is Hulu Desktop, Google Earth, and Google Chrome. One last piece of cool software is the Google Search box, which is basically a spotlight search replacement. Although I didn't actually remove spotlight search. Google Search box is a far more powerful search application and it further integrates the Google apps to my desktop.

The Pros: (For netbook in the same price range)
Novelty of OSX on a small notebook
Comparable Processor Speed to other netbooks
More ram than most netbooks (usually you only get a gig)
Bigger Screen (12" as opposed 9" or 10")
Similar or larger hard drive at 100 GB
Includes a CD/DVD burner where most netbooks have no optical drive, plus the slot style drive makes the system more compact
Four plus hour battery life which is as good or better than most netbooks
Time Machine makes a pretty handy back up system
Better Speakers than most netbooks

The Cons: (For netbook in the same price range)
Only 2 USB Ports (Truly not enough)
No Built-in Bluetooth (But it can be added for $149.00)
No Built-In Webcam
Slightly heavier than modern netbooks
Software support for the ppc platform is beginning to disappear

Posted by: Joshua Nicholes

Friday, October 16, 2009

Windows 7 RTM Review

I've been using the Windows 7 RTM version for a few weeks now and overall I am very happy. I think this release is the OS that people have been waiting for and even if you hated Vista and retreated back to Windows XP its worth the upgrade. Personally I think that Vista had some great new features and Windows 7 improves on those:

*Windows 7 has great performance enhancements over Vista thanks to better resource management and a reduction in the number of services that are stared at boot

*I really like the redesigned taskbar which is like the quick launch menu on steroids, also the active windows previews, jump lists, and window management features make it far easier to find your applications and manage windows

*Driver support in Windows 7 is leaps and bounds ahead of where Vista was at its release you may find that hardware that had no Vista driver may work fine in 7, and of course if it worked with Vista it will work in Windows 7

*The User Account Control or UAC security feature is far less annoying in 7 and it allows for greater user control

*Visual themes and the options to customize the look and feel of your desktop are far improved and the RTM includes some very nicely polished visual themes that were not in the Release Candidate

*The new device stage makes it easier to manage the various devices connected to your computer and quickly access there features

*The new Windows 7 Home groups and Librarys will make it easier to organize and share files. These librarys allow you to access all similar content regardless of where it is stored on your hard disk or network.

*Also Microsoft has reduced the number of editions for Windows 7 to just 3 and with the eventual release of Windows XP Mode promises greater comparability with your XP applications

The bad news....

No upgrade path from windows XP. You will have to do a clean install but Windows 7's installer will automatically save all of your data for you to the Windows.old folder and after you've got 7 up and running you can simply drag and drop your data to the appropriate locations. To learn more check out: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/
Posted by: Joshua Nicholes

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wanna try the Google Chrome OS?

If you want to try the unofficial Beta Version of Google's new Chrome OS you can find it here. Stay tuned I will be testing over the next few days and will report on my impressions as well.


Posted by: Josh Nicholes

Monday, September 14, 2009

Saturday, September 5, 2009


This is pretty awesome, its your own personal computer in a web-browser. Check out g.ho.st (http://g.ho.st/). With an account you get a host of cool apps and 15 GB of storage space. All of your bookmarks and data are saved and accessible no matter where you log-in from.

Posted by: Josh Nicholes

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

App Store not Just for the iPhone Anymore

iPhone users continue to be overly impressed with the iPhone app store and I never have figured out why. Any Linux user recognizes it for what it really is which is just a software package repository. These have existed for various Linux distros almost since the beginning.

I came across this little project the other day call AllMyApps (http://allmyapps.com/) which puts a web based interface to a package repository creating a very efficient and clean App store for a number of popular Linux Distributions. Even more exciting news, they are working on a Windows version as well. This may just be the boost that the open software movement is looking for.

Posted by: Josh Nicholes

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Google Voice

I've been using google voice for about a month now and I'm impressed. Voice (http://www.google.com/googlevoice/about.html) is Google's answer to integrating the web and voice services. After selecting a phone number from Google's database you can assign numbers so that a single number will ring multiple phones. In my configuration I have my Google Voice number ringing my mobile, my home, and the built in number in my vehicle. One number to rule them all.

Also text messages can be delivered to multiple phones and Google host your voicemail box and a wide variety of options for call screening and blocking. By far the neatest feature though is the voice transcription. Voice listens to your callers voicemail and then translate their spoken words to text. Then sends that message to you via text. I was extremely and pleasantly surprised at how well this works. It also notifies you via email.

From the voice homepage you can view all of your past text messages and voicemail and even listen to your voicemail from your PC. You can also send SMS and dial numbers. Voice basically treats messages and voicemail like email messages and even integrates your GMail contacts. If its this good and still in beta we can't wait to see what the final released version will be like.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Windows 7 is Ready

Windows 7 has finally reached RTM so look for it coming to OEM's very soon. Final build # is 7600.16385. Official release date is scheduled for Oct. 22nd and the prices are what I expected.


Posted by: Joshua Nicholes

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Blackle: Greener web searching

I noticed this project a few years ago, and stumbled on it again just the other day. The Blackle project aims to save the energy that is wasted by preforming web searches. Here's how it works; the site is predominately black and therefore is more energy efficient than other search engines with a wider array or images and colors. It takes more energy for a monitor to display white than black, and the more colors that are displayed on a page the more energy that is required to properly display that page.

The tracker on Blackels' homepage is tracking the number of watt hours that have been saved by using their search engine as opposed to a competitor. I must admit it is an interesting concept, and as it says on their site it is the small steps that count.

Check it out at:


Posted by: Josh Nicholes

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Google OS

No kidding.... Google plans to launch a lightweight Linux based Operating System as early as this fall. Targeted at notebooks and mobile devices, read more about at Google's blog.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Firefox 3.5 is here!

The new firefox is not all that different from its predessor... except of course that it is extremely fast! Give it a try, oh and that's not a suggestion, its an order. Firefox is still the best browser out there.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bing .vs Google

By now I'm sure you've heard of Bing!, Microsoft's newest attempt at search, they seem to be full force behind the advertising. Although I must admit there are some interesting ideas behind Bing, I still think Google is going to be tough to beat. Gone are the days when Microsoft only had to bundle something with their OS and overnight it was a market leader. Which be they way Bing! is the default search provider in IE 8.

I've played around with Bing! a little bit over the last week or so and I think there is some potential. Is it better than Google, I don't think so. Then again, who am I to decide. Check out http://www.furia.com/code/bg/bg.cgi. This nifty app will display your search results from both Google and Bing side by side. I encourage you take a test drive.

Posted by: Josh Nicholes

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Cyber Security and the US Government

The White House released this Blog Post on Friday concerning their 60 day review on Cyber Security  and how it relates to our national security. I'm really not sure how I feel about this. I can't help but to acknowledge that the Internet and cyber space if not properly secured and monitored stands to have huge negative impacts on many facets of American life and well-being. The financial industry, national defense, basic infrastructure,global communications systems, and education and research to name but a few. The question then is how much control to we lay in the hands of our government with concern to the monitoring and security of our digital information and networks? How much regulations and oversight is appropriate?

THE PROS: right now the president and security advisers are gathering research and recommendations from a variety of subject matter experts and interested parties. They are trying to grasp the overall picture of the situation

THE CONS: how will this information then be used and what sort of governmental controls will then be applied, As with many government programs, this one runs the risk of deteriorating over time, where it's original intent is then lost in bureaucracy. One of the greatest things about the internet is that it is currently so free and unregulated.

Posted By:
Joshua Nicholes

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Working Everyday to Make Passwords Totally Insecure

When it comes to password security policies bigger isn't always better. IT departments and administrators need to find that level of password zen where passwords are long enough, complex enough, and changed often enough that they are secure. If any of these levels are out of whack the users will simply write their passwords down on a post-it note or in a planner and leave it for anyone to find It is my guess that in 4 out of 5 organizations that you can walk into any office and in less than 5 minutes you can find all of the users login and password information.

Some companies are using a password policy as follows:

1. Must be 12 characters long or more
2. Must contain at least 1 capital letter
3. Must contain at least 1 number
4. Must contain at least 1 special character
5. Cannot be a dictionary word
6. Password expires every 30 days

This policy equals disaster and security failure. Yet I know of numerous organizations out there that are using, Here is a far more realistic and therefore secure password policy.

1. Must be 6 characters long or more
2. Must contain at least 1 capital letter
3. Must contain at least 1 number
4. Must contain at least 1 special characte
5. Cannot be a dictionary word
6 Password expires every 60 days

Two very minor changes and I guarantee users are far less likely to write these passwords down. Bottom line; put some thought into your password policy before you put them in place, and be consistent across your applications and websites, and use single sign-on technologies whenever possible. Encourage users not to write passwords down and teach them how to choose good passwords.

Posted by: Joshua Nicholes

Friday, May 15, 2009

Recession = reduced Cyber Security

As the economy worsens so will our cyber security. With the economic downturn financial desperation increases in the populace. What does this mean in terms of IT security? I predict a rise in hoaxes, scams, and identity thefts aimed to separate you from your money. Not only are the criminals desperate but their victims are desperate too, I predict you will see more folks out there fall for these types of scams.

Organizations and individuals alike are spending less on security software and services and IT staffs are being reduced. This means that overall there is less monitoring and protection out there on the Internet as a whole. So what can an average home user do to protect themselves in tough times?

1. Keep antivirus and security software up-to-date. Here are a couple of free ones that will keep you safe.
Avast http://www.avast.com/
MS Defender http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/defender/default.mspx

2. Use firefox (also free), and clear your private data after every use. It is by far a safer browser.

3. Don't visit sites your not sure about, better safe than sorry.

4. Do your online shopping at sites you trust, don't be tempted by a bargain.

5. Never give out any personal info (SS #, birth date, bank info, etc...), this applies both online and off.

7. Don't allow your browser to safe your passwords or automatically log you in.

8. Keep all your software up-to-date not just your antivirus (Operating Systems, Office Apps, Browsers, Adobe Software, etc...).

9. Lock-down your home Wifi network (Use Wep encryption at the very least).

10. Don't leave your laptops, phones, PDA's, thumb drives lying around, you'd be surprised how much info someone can get.

Posted by: Joshua Nicholes

Monday, April 27, 2009

Who Needs a CD drive anyway?

It seems that perhaps the optical drive in your PC or  laptop may have out lived it's usefulness. Increasing we are seeing networks such as the Internet being utilized as a means of distribution for software, movies, and music as opposed to having the actual CD or DVD in hand. iTunes and services like it have revolutionized the way people purchase music and with most newer vehicles allowing you to integrate your mp3 player into its audio system no Cd's are required. On the movie front Netflix, Blockbuster, and services like Hulu allow people to enjoy movies and television without the need for any type of optical media. The same is true for games and software applications many vendors and retailers allow you to purchase and download the game or application on-line instantly without having to wait to receive a disk. This makes even more sense with the expansion in availability of affordable high-speed Internet connections.

This trend is being further enforced by the growing popularity of the netbook or mini-laptops many of which do not have an intergrated optical drive. Software must intern be installed via a network, the Internet, or some type of external device via a USB connection. Personally I welcome this change, I have been using the network method for OS and software installations for years. It is far easier than keeping track of Cd's and the installations can be done remotely. I typically copy the CD or DVDs contents to a network share as soon as I get it and never use it, or in some cases, even see it again.

This may prove to be one more nail in the coffin for traditional brick and mortar retailers as software developers can shift more of their distribution towards the Internet and away from these retailers. They are likely to do this too as it will reduce their production and distribution costs and allow them greater control over licensing and unauthorized duplication. Additionally, this may have the greatest impact on the BLU-RAY format, and ensure it never reaches its full potential. I mean think about it, why buy a new player and a bunch of new movies when you can simply download it in true digital quality using just your web-browser? I predict that now begins the raise of the home media center PC connected directly to your home entertainment center. This has already begun thanks the DVR. People simply record movies and TV to their DVR's hard disk and watch them whenever they want.

Posted by:
Joshua Nicholes

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Texting and Driving

Almost everyone these days has a cell phone or two. Heck they practically issue them to you at birth, and don't get me wrong they are a real convenience (and nascence). They allow us to stay connected to family and friends, to be a far more mobile workforce, and provide a invaluable tool to get help in an emergency. However they also allow us to endanger our lives far move easily especially behind the wheel. Many states have now made talking on a cell phone or sending text messages while driving illegal. Text messaging while driving in particular sounds like a deadly pass-time while driving.

There is one angle to this situation that I haven't quite figured out however. Why have the cell phone manufactures not stepped in to help save us from ourselves as the auto manufactures have done. After all we have seat belts, air bags, and even speed control systems all designed to help keep us safe in the event of an auto accident. Why are there no safety features on our cell phones?

I challenge cell phone manufactures to utilize the GPS technology that it already built in to most modern cellular devices to develop technology to disable the device from either sending or receiving phone calls and text messages when moving above a certain speed. Let's say 10 mph. Of course just as with the safety features built into automobiles the user should have the option to disable this feature if they wish. I mean you don't have to wear your seat belt if you don't want to. Besides you can easily be moving and not necessarily driving. Additionally just as there are usage controls and block features available to parents to control there kids cell phone usage let's allow parents to permanently lock this feature on and not allow there teen drivers the ability to disable it. I can only image the impact a feature like this may have on reducing the number of cell phone related accidents every year.
Posted by:
Joshua Nicholes

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lotus Notes really is the WORST application ever

A company I work for, which shall remain nameless, sadly still uses IBM's Lotus Notes. In fact they recently upgraded to version 7. After being a notes user for a few years now and working with hundreds of different software applications over the years I am convinced that Lotus Notes is in fact the WORST piece of software in existence. If you have never suffered through the difficulties of attempting to use it count yourself lucky.

First of all the user interface is extremely archaic and gives you that late 1980's feel. It looks like something that should be running on the Apple IIe right alongside the Oregon Trail. If that isn't bad enough the different user options to change configurations and settings are located in about 6 different places and nearly impossible to find in some cases. The overall layout of the program does not come anywhere near the standards of most modern Windows programs.

Second it is an absolute resource hog. Even on decent hardware it uses an incredible amount of memory and system resources while just running in the background. More than any common email client (Thunderbird, Outlook, etc...) that I have ever used.Third it lacks many features common to modern email clients unless you wish to program agents. These agents are over-complicated and difficult at best to understand. In almost every other client I have worked with these features are set-up via check boxes and simple input fields. It does however have a vacation auto responder. Unfortunately after the system receives a new message it could take hours or even days before your vacation auto response is actually sent back to the message sender.

Lastly and perhaps the most frustrating characteristic of Lotus is the fact that it is incredibly unstable and prone to crashing. When it crahses it almost always requires a system restart before it will run again. On top of all that the Lotus folks have written some of the most difficult to understand and nonsensical error messages that I have ever seen. What exactly does; "Type Mismatch" tell the user? Or another one of my personal favorites; "An error occurred while processing a request on an object"

If you are an IT administrator considering implementing Lotus Notes in your organization: DON'T. It lacks many common and useful features, it is insanely over-priced, and it is riddled with problems. If you are using it already switch to something else... fast. You'll be glad you did. And if you are poor user stuck with notes and you hate it... at least your not alone. Check out THIS SITE.

Posted by:
Joshua Nicholes

Monday, February 2, 2009

Windows 7 & the Acer Aspire One

Recently I bought my wife an Acer Aspire One as a gift. It came preloaded with Windows XP SP3, but of course I found this unacceptable. It seems a little silly to load a six year OS on a brand new PC. So, I opted to download and install Windows 7 Beta. As you may or may not know the Aspire One does not include a built in CD drive so your only option is to do an install from either an external hard drive or a USB thumbdrive, HERE are some instructions if you need to know how to do that.

The installation went off without a hitch and Win 7 found drivers for everything but the wifi card a little poking around on the net and I found THIS SITE. After installing the driver manually and a reboot everything worked fine. After using my network to install some apps and join the mini to my AD domain the mini notebook works like a champ. Even with 1 GB of ram and the Atom processor the system is surprisingly fast and stable. Able to run multiple apps and switch back and fourth with no issue.

My one criticism is that the tiny keyboard and touchpad take some getting used to but what do you expect for such a small size. Overall I am very impressed and Microsoft is true to their word. Windows 7 is truly notebook and netbook friendly. If you have an Aspire One I strongly encourage you to give Windows 7 a try.

Posted by:
Joshua Nicholes

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Weekend with Windows 7

Many have already heard that Windows 7 Beta became available to the public last Friday. Any that know me surly realize that I couldn't resist. I have already done two installs of the new OS and here's my report. First thing I notice is the vastly improved performance over its predecessor. My first test was in a VM environment where I could control the parameters to really check out performance. Needless to say I was so impressed that I immediately preformed a fresh install on a test machine that had previously been running Vista Ultimate 32-bit. Windows 7 far out preforms Vista on my test machine, I couldn't be happier. The requirements from Microsoft are a 1 GZH processor, 1 GB ram (compared to 512 MB in Vista), and Direct X 9 compatible graphics. Very similar to Vista, the main difference though, Windows 7 actually runs well with a gig of ram. Vista doesn't really run well with a gig of ram, and basically not at all with a minimum 512 MB.

It's seems Microsoft has really listened to us and our gripes about Vista. Next thing to mention is the new UI. MS's extension of the taskbar as a primary launch surface and the ability to control applications and windows without launching them is very easy to use and impressive overall. Further they have greatly cleaned up the notification area and allowed the user far greater control. This is a welcome change as it has been an annoyance since Windows 95. Additionally they have eliminated the sidebar and now gadgets can be pinned anywhere on the desktop. It seems it really is all about user control and customization in this new version.

I had no trouble joining the system to an Active Directory Domain and or my WSUS system. All drivers and applications that I had running in Vista installed easily save for one. At this point the LogMeIn remote access software is not compatible. Give it time though I'm sure support is on the way. A little further under the hood I see the control panel has been expanded to include even more options than were available in Vista and MS has put back all of the functionality in there backup utility. This is a very good thing as it was a major gripe for me.

Speaking of fixed annoyances they have greatly improved User Account Control (UAC) to have multiple levels of protection and thus fewer notifications depending on the setting. This is a very good thing as most people I know disabled their UAC in Vista because it continually bugged them and therefore lost any security benefit that it may have provided. I was also happy to see that Windows 7 is being offered in both the 32 and 64-bit flavors meaning that at least through this version there will be support for somewhat older hardware.

I was disappointed to see that there is no support for upgrading to Windows 7 from Windows XP. You must be running Vista with at least SP1 to preform the upgrade. In light of the fact that so many people either did not upgrade to Vista or downgraded back to XP after trying Vista Microsoft needs to consider giving customers this option. Overall I think this OS has some serious improvements over Vista and people should consider upgrading. The performance improvements alone are enough to make it worth your while. I plan to continue using 7 beta until the final version is released so stay tuned.

For more Win 7 info see the Windows Team Blog, or our new Windows 7 page.

Posted by:
Josh Nicholes

Friday, January 2, 2009

10 Things to do When You Get a New PC

0. Obviously when you get a new system make sure that it is all hooked up and functioning properly.

1. Go through the initial set-up steps, agree to license agreements, name the system, enter your passwords, add users, etc... I am assuming that you also have an active internet connection. Customize your system the way you like it. Set your colors, wallpaper, etc.

2. Immediately go to the control panel > programs and features and remove all OEM pre-bundled crapware. Such as the free trial Internet services, web-browser toolbars, demo games, etc... This stff uses space and resources and you won't use it anyway.

3. Next remove the unnecessary windows features such as tablet pc features or anything else you know you won't be using. You can always reinstall them later.

4. Next remove whatever trail anti-virus software (Mcaffee, Symantec, etc.) and install avast av, my personal favorite and run a boot-up system scan. You will need to register avast but don't worry it is free.

5. Next run Windows Update and install any security patches and updates and set your automatic update schedule.

6. Install any peripheral devices (printers, scanners, usb devices, etc...)

7. Use the Windows Easy Transfer, a thumb drive, or external hard drive to copy your files and data from your old system to the new one.

8. Install any additional software that you use, office suites, productivity software, finance software, etc...

9. Complete a full system backup with Windows Backup and save it somewhere safe.

10. Lastly, devise, configure and scheduled back-up scheme to protect your data. I suggest you install and configure either Mozy, or iDrive. These programs will back-up your important data on-schedule and securly to an off-site location. That way if something happens to your computers (theft, fire, etc.) you still have access to your data. This will also make your next transfer to another computer a snap. Also, you can access your data wherever you have an Internet connection.

Happy New Year!

Posted by:
Josh Nicholes